Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris is encouraging staff and students of University College Dublin (UCD), Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and University College Cork (UCC) to volunteer for a pilot antigen testing project called UniCov which aims to achieve a safe face-to-face campus experience for students and staff. 

The project is a randomised controlled clinical study led by National University of Ireland,  Galway (NUIG) and is funded by Science Foundation Ireland.  The study is to be completed using rapid testing and surveillance systems within third level institutes, such as saliva-based PCR testing and wastewater surveillance which will allow for the development of early warning systems and advance future outbreak prevention.

Students who enrol to join the study will be assigned to a subgroup that will involve either performing self-testing twice a week for 8 weeks, or test twice a week with self-administered tests in two-week periods. Participants will be expected to; have a computer or smartphone with a camera, understand the participation leaflet, give their consent, register to participate, collect their participant package, carry out the necessary tests required depending on their subgroup, upload their results and drop off saliva samples on campus, complete weekly questionnaires and continue to follow the public health guidelines. 

UCD Students’ Union President, Ruairí Power, has said “The UniCoV Project will go a long way to provide students with increased ability to protect themselves from COVID-19 and reduce the risk of widespread community transmission on campus. Reducing community transmission is vital to achieve a meaningful on-campus experience for UCD Students”. 

Results of the pilot may include asymptomatic infection being identified which otherwise would not have been found, therefore leading to a possible safe and sustainable return to campus for many students and staff. According to Minister Harris, will be “playing a vital role in our recovery from this pandemic.”

Students can sign up by visiting www.unicov.org provided they are registered students or staff members of one of the named higher educational institutions and are over the age of 18 years old. Signed assurance that they have no Covid-19 symptoms is also required. 

Minister Harris hopes over 8,000 people will participate in this study, and has encouraged staff and students to “participate and help us with our plans for a safe and sustainable re-opening of campuses and society”.

Stephanie Toolis – Reporter

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